Rory back in the groove just in time for Augusta
THE winner’s prize of an iconic red Arnold Palmer cardigan might have eluded Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill on Sunday but we can surely now feel a lot more upbeat about his chances of being clad in Augusta green in three weeks.
What an amazing turnaround we’ve seen over the past month, when Paul McGinley was understandably fretting about the distracting headlines McIlroy had attracted after playing golf with US President Donald Trump.
Furthermore, after two months on the sidelines recovering from a rib fracture and with just three events scheduled before the season’s first major, McIlroy (right) was in danger of being horribly undercooked in his quest for the career Grand Slam at the Masters.
Yet the Northern Irishman has managed to assuage many of the doubts with two stirring performances. True, he would almost certainly have won one of them had he been playing the schedule he had originally intended and been razor- sharp but he’s heading rapidly in the right direction.
‘I’m just happy to be out here again and playing in a run of events,’ said the 27-year-old, who shot rounds of 65, 69 at the weekend to finish tied fourth alongside Englishman Tyrrell Hatton at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
‘I gave it a good run in the final two rounds and I’m really pleased with how I played. Now I’m looking forward to building on that at the Match Play in Austin this week and ultimately at the Masters.’
McIlroy made his move when conditions turned hard and fastrunning at Bay Hill, as they will be at Augusta in three weeks.
He demolished the four par-fives, playing them in seven under par over the last 36 holes, and again that’s what will be needed at the Masters. Most encouraging of all was how dialled in he was with his wedges. Distance control with his short irons has never been a McIlroy strength, and there’s no margin for error at Augusta. But over the weekend he was on the money with these clubs, time and again. McIlroy, back up to No 2 in the world behind Dustin Johnson, now travels to Texas for a pleasing change of format and pace, in his final event before the annual rite of spring in Georgia.
A rare form of greatness beckons over those cherished acres, of course. Only Tiger Woods has completed the career Grand Slam since the 1960s and only five players — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus are the others — have done so in all.
The exciting thought is that McIlroy is in far better shape to embrace the forbidding challenge than seemed possible just a month ago.